viernes, 7 de noviembre de 2014

Gadwall 2

 Four of a group of six Gadwall (Anas strepera)

I returned to Las Martelas this morning to try and improve on the quality of yesterday's images. The flock of six Gadwall (Anas strepera) was still cruising around in the main irrigation pond, apparently picking insects from the surface. The birds were rather cautious and stayed on the far side of the pond most of the time, possibly wary of two men working on the roof of a nearby greenhouse.

Occasionally, the ducks engaged in wing-stretching exercises and short flights...

Above and below, all six individuals can be seen.

As a curiosity, the last shot below shows the entire flock packed into a ball for a short nap: heads are placed so that several eyes have an unobstructed all round view...

jueves, 6 de noviembre de 2014


Two from a flock of six Gadwall (Anas strepera), with adult male in foreground

The Gadwall (Anas strepera) is an irregular winter visitor to the Canary Islands (La Palma, Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura). This is only my second record of the species on La Palma, the first dating from four years ago, when one bird arrived at the end of October 2010, and was joined by four more around December 12.

The present group was discovered late this evening (Nov 6), in fading light, in an irrigation pond in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane). All photos were taken at ISO 800 - the first two with a wire mesh fence between me and the subject - and are the best I could do in the circumstances.

All six ducks together, adult male second from right

jueves, 30 de octubre de 2014

Northern Wheatear

 Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)

The Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) is a fairly regular passage migrant to the Canaries, with records from all islands, including La Graciosa, Alegranza and Lobos.

Several individuals have been detected on La Palma in recent years, my own sightings of solitary birds dating from September 2009, October 2010, June 2012, and September 2013... plus a group of three back in 2007.

Sites where I have observed the species include the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane), stony areas on the summit of the island, and, above all, in the ideal habitat found in Llano de las Cuevas (El Paso), where the present bird was photographed this morning (30/10/2014).

Northern Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - adult male

jueves, 23 de octubre de 2014

Flycatcher at the Laguna de Barlovento

 Present state of the Laguna de Barlovento reservoir, 23/10/2014

The leaky ol' Laguna de Barlovento has featured in this blog a number of times, receiving fairly unenthusiastic treatment every time. Not only is the weather often atrocious up in the far NE corner of the island (by Canary Island standards), but this concrete reservoir is also completely fenced-off and lacks convenient vantage points from which to scan the water... which at the moment amounts to little more than a puddle.

Nevertheless, a number of vagrants have been recorded at this peculiar location, including a Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) a couple of years ago.

Away from the reservoir itself, the surrounding area offers various kinds of promising habitat, being a mosaic of abandoned crops, overgrown hedgerows, cultivated fields, and myrtle-heather a leisure area with a duckpond! A good place for butterflies, Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax), and the usual resident passerines...

But today, in addition to the Canaries (Serinus canaria), Blackbirds (Turdus merula), Chaffinches (Fringilla coelebs ssp. palmae), Chiffchaffs (Phylloscopus canariensis), Bluetits (Cyanistes tenriffae ssp. palmensis) and Goldcrests (Regulus regulus ssp. ellenthalerae), I had a brief sighting of a solitary Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata).

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) with Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs ssp. palmae)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata), with Canary (Serinus canaria) and Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs ssp. palmae)

Spotted Flycatcher (Muscicapa striata) adult

According to the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (Eduardo García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions May 2011), "this species is a passage migrant to the Canary Islands (all islands and La Graciosa, Alegranza, but not El Hierro or La Palma). In Macaronesia it can be found anywhere with trees, for example in parks and gardens".

So, to the best of my knowledge, the present bird is a first record for La Palma.

miércoles, 22 de octubre de 2014

A third White-rumped Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis), Las Martelas, 22/10

The two White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis) featured in the previous post were still present at the saltpans in Fuencaliente this evening (22/10), and there was a third bird in one of the irrigation ponds in Las Martelas (Los Llanos de Aridane).

As of 25/10, three more individuals have also been recorded on Gran Canaria. Click here for details.

The present sighting will be forwarded to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

martes, 21 de octubre de 2014

White-rumped Sandpiper

 White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis)

Discovered this afternoon at the saltpans in Fuencaliente, the White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis) is a long-distance migrant which breeds in NE Alaska and N Canada east to S Baffin Island. It winters in SE South America from CE Brazil to Tierra del Fuego. With a total of 39 records, this species is the second most-detected Nearctic vagrant to the Canary Islands (after the Pectoral Sandpiper, Calidris melanotos).

The bulk of records have been between September and November, peaking in October. A spectacular influx was recorded in October 2005, when more than 50 birds were found on almost all of the islands (nine birds together on La Palma). [Rare Birds of the Canary Islands, Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas, Lynx Edicions, June 2013].

After a while observing at the saltpans, a second bird appeared. Relations between the two were not exactly cordial, so it was difficult to photograph them together...

This is my fifth record of the species, and seventh individual on La Palma:

Oct 2010 (n=1), Aug 2011 (n=1), Oct 2012 (n=1), Oct 2012 (n=2), Oct 2014 (n=2)

The present photos show most of the key identification features: attenuated overall shape with wing-tips projecting beyond tail; blackish, medium length legs; slightly decurved bill with brownish base to lower mandible; white upper tail coverts (= white rump), etc.

A couple of Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula) were also present at the same location this afternoon.

This sighting of Calidris fuscicollis will be forwarded to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

martes, 14 de octubre de 2014

Peregrine, or Barbary Falcon?

 Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) ?

From a distance, through my car window, the first thing which attracted my attention was the large size of this bird: roughly as big as a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo), the only other raptor of similar proportions found on La Palma. The location was also appropriate for the Buzzard, close to a main road in an area where the species is regularly seen. On closer approach, however, the perched bird of prey revealed itself to be a Falcon: but surely too big to be the resident Barbary Falcon (Falco pelegrinoides)? I parked, and managed to get the first photos from inside my car...

These shots are almost against the light: even so, the plumage looks much darker than in typical Barbary Falcons; the moustachial stripe is also wider, and there appears to be no hint of rufous or pale patches on the nape.

The fine barring continues all the way up the breast as far as the neck, where some scattered streaks can be appreciated. There could be a slight off-white tinge to the underparts, but it is difficult to assess the precise shade in these photos. The powerful, broad wings, and the robust body and head would seem to indicate Peregrine, rather than Barbary...

According to the Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia (Eduardo García-del-Rey, Lynx Edicions, May 2011), the Peregrine Falcon is a vagrant to the Canary Islands (Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, and Lanzarote).

Rare Birds of the Canary Islands (Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas, Lynx Edicions, June 2013), states that the subspecies of Peregrine so far recorded on the Canary Islands is suspected to be calidus. However, the only records cited are from Tenerife (n=7) and Lanzarote (n=1).

Any comments as to this  bird's precise identity would be appreciated.

Thanks to the help of a number of Canary Island birders with experience of the Tagarote, or 
Barbary Falcon (Domingo Trujillo, Beneharo Rodríguez, Francisco Javier García Vargas and Juan Sagardía), the identitiy of my bird has been settled: it is in fact a female Barbary Falcon, and not a migrant Peregrine.

For future reference, it is worth bearing in mind that pelegrinoides shows considerable variation in plumage tones, size of rufous patches on nape (if any), and width of moustachial stripe - amongst other features - as well as differences relating to age and sex of individual birds. So...quite a complex species, which doesn't always match descriptions and illustrations found in standard field guides.

Of course, being the only resident falcon on the Canary Islands this species can usually be safely identified "by default": however, large, dark individuals during autumn or spring migration periods merit close attention.

martes, 7 de octubre de 2014

Glossy Ibis

 Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) - juvenile

On the evening of Sep 27, I happened to coincide with Domingo Trujillo at an irrigation pond in Las Martelas. Meeting other birders is an extremely rare occurrence on La Palma, so it's hard to say which of us was more surprised at seeing someone else with binoculars. As we were chatting, a Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) was seen in flight to the north, among a small flock of Little Egret (Egretta garzetta).

The Glossy Ibis is not classified as a "rarity" on the Canary Islands, but is certainly an irregular winter visitor, with only 17 previous records corresponding to 22 individuals listed in Rare Birds of the Canary Islands (Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas, Lynx Edicions, 2013):

La Palma (n=1), El Hierro (n=1), Tenerife (n=6, 7 ind.), Gran Canaria (n=5, 6 ind.), Fuerteventura (n=3, 6 ind.), Lanzarote (n=1)

Since Sep 27, I have been searching for this elusive bird, finally locating it this evening, Oct 7. There could actually be two individuals on the island at present, as one bird was initially flushed and might not be the one shown here, which could have been hidden from view by the walls of the pond when I first arrived.

My first record of this species on La Palma dates from Sep 2010.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)

Above is a bird's-eye view of a Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), recently observed in one of the many irrigation ponds in Las Martelas. After last year's Wilson's (G. delicata) on Tenerife, all visiting snipes demand close examination...

Other species present in the same area include Greenshank (Tringa nebularia), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), and Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos ). At the saltpans in Fuencaliente, I have seen Little Stint (Calidris minuta) and Redshank (Tringa totanus).

The airport pools have so far yielded only Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and Ringed Plover (Charadrius hiaticula)

Other recent sightings on the island include a Black Kite (Milvus migrans) observed in Tazacorte by Tom Brereton of Naturetrek on Sep 30, and a Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) in Las Martelas on Oct 2. Offshore, the party also had Macaronesian Shearwater (Puffinus baroli), Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), and Arctic Skua (Stercorarius parasiticus).

miércoles, 10 de septiembre de 2014

Pectoral Sandpiper

To open the present post, a couple of photos of the main irrigation pond in Las Martelas, the first showing the maximum water-level typically found in the winter months. Dotted around on the surface are various Coots (Fulica atra); small numbers of Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula), and other Anatidae frequently occupy this pond from late autumn onwards.

The second shot, taken from a slightly different angle, shows the same pond as it looks at the moment: virtually empty, with just a few puddles of water in the bottom. Not exactly an inspiring landscape, but then long-distance migrants are hardly concerned about the scenic beauty of their stopover sites...

Take this juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) for example, discovered foraging in the almost dried out pond this morning, Sep 10. This North American wader is the most frequent Nearctic vagrant throughout Europe, and is becoming almost "regular" on La Palma: the present individual is my seventh to date on the island.

 Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) juvenile

Close-range photography is impossible under the present conditions, but these heavily-cropped images show most of the key identification features: yellowish legs, sharp demarcation between throat streaks and white belly, slightly decurved pale-based bill, and long primary projection.

 Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) juvenile

This sighting will be forwarded to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

sábado, 6 de septiembre de 2014

Semipalmated Sandpiper

 Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla)

The first rarity of the 2014 post-breeding season was discovered at the saltpans in Fuencaliente this morning, Sep 6. This solitary Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) was found foraging together with two Dunlins (Calidris alpina), which provided an opportunity for  size comparison.

The bird's bill is certainly straight and shortish, but seems a little longer than that of the previous pusilla recorded at the same location four years ago (see Oct 2 2010 blog post for details). The legs of the present bird are not pure black, but tinged dark olive, with the partially-webbed inner and outer toes clearly visible.

In addition,  the very short primary projection beyond the tertials can also be appreciated. The only other Calidris with similar webbing is the Western Sandpiper (C. mauri), but mauri has a thinner and longer bill which is slightly decurved.

Below are a couple of shots allowing size-comparison with the Dunlins present at the same location.

Above and below: C. alpina and C. pusilla.

According to Rare Birds of the Canary Islands by Eduardo García-del-Rey and Francisco Javier García Vargas  (Lynx Edicions, 2013), to date, there have only been 5 records of this Nearctic wader on the Canaries:

La Palma     n = 1  24/09/2010
El Hierro     n = 1  14/10/2011
Tenerife      n = 2   18/10/1995 and 03/05/1997-05/05/1997
Lanzarote    n = 1   01/11/2008-04/11/2008

This sighting will be forwarded to the Spanish Rarities Committee in due course.

domingo, 10 de agosto de 2014

Red-billed Chough

 Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) - juvenile

Within Macaronesia, the Red-billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) breeds exclusively on La Palma, and with estimated numbers at around 2,800 birds, the island boasts one of the highest population densities of this species in the Western Palearctic: approximately 4 individuals per square kilometre.

Paleontological evidence shows that the chough was once present on La Gomera, Tenerife, and probably El Hierro; recent sightings on Tenerife and La Gomera, indicate that the species is capable of flying between the various islands.

On La Palma, the species can be observed in a wide range of habitats, including cultivated areas, ravines, coastal cliffs, scrublands, urban surroundings, and even pine forests, although it seems to avoid areas of fully-developed laurel forest. Flocks of anywhere between 50 and 100 birds are not uncommon.

Given the geographic isolation of the island population, and the necessary adaptation to unusual local environments, the question obviously arises as to whether La Palma choughs merit classification as a separate subspecies. Expert opinion seems to be divided on this issue.

 Juvenile begging for food, showing the curious habit of simultaneously raising one leg

From among the sources consulted, I quote:
1. "on the Canaries, the same form is present as in North Africa, P.p.barbarus".
2. "On the basis of slight biometric and plumage differences, the race barbarus has been described, being slightly larger than the nominate, with a deeper and longer bill and a greenish gloss to its black pumage. No genetic studies are available to support this race."
3. "All-in-all, choughs in La Palma are smaller than Iberian choughs, which is in controversy with their classification together with North African individuals within the barbarus subspecies".

(See below for corresponding references).

Differencess in bill, legs, and plumage tones can be appreciated in the adult and juvenile birds.

Despite uncertainty concerning status, there does seem to be general agreement that the island choughs' diet differs from that of mainland birds, tending to be more frugivorous, and that the local race has acquired unusual foraging habits, not necessarily ground-based. Morphologically, in contrast to continental choughs feeding in open areas on soil invertebrates, island choughs feeding on fruits from trees, bushes and cacti often have shorter tarsi and a deeper bill.

The photos above were all taken in a typical ground-foraging area: Llano de Las Cuevas, in El Paso. Below, two birds in a rather more "unusual" setting, perched in a Canary Pine (Pinus canariensis):


1. LORENZO, J. A. (Ed) 2007. Atlas de las Aves Nidificantes en el Archipiélago Canario. Organismo Autónomo de Parques Nacionales, Madrid.
2. García del Rey, E. (2011). Field Guide to the Birds of Macaronesia Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
3. Blanco, G. & Laiolo, P. & Pais, J. Environmental adaptations, morphological divergence and reproductive isolation of the chough in La Palma. 3rd International Workshop on the Conservation of the Chough, Santa Cruz de La Palma 13-15 October 2010.

jueves, 10 de abril de 2014

Wood Pigeon

 Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus)

The Common Wood Pigeon (Columba palumbus) may well be a typical resident of suburban gardens and parks in mainland Europe, but it is a rare passage migrant to the Canaries, with only 10 records altogether (Lanzarote 4, Tenerife 3, Fuerteventura 2 and Gran Canaria 1). Most sightings have been in spring, with five in April, three in March, one in February and one in July. ["Rare Birds of the Canary Islands" E. García-del-Rey and F. J. García Vargas, Lynx Edicions June 2013].

This solitary bird was discovered on April 9 at the saltpans in Fuencaliente, hardly an appropriate spot for the species. The bird appeared to be resting, but immediately took flight when I attempted to get closer. It flew about 300 yards inland and landed in an area of rocks and volcanic ash, where it was still visible through binoculars.

In flight, the white transverse bands on the upper wing were clearly visible. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first record of Columba palumbus on La Palma.